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Inventor Of The Automatic Bagel Machine, Daniel Thompson, Dies At 94

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Daniel Thompson, whose automatic bagel machine brought bagels to the masses—as well as a crushing blow to artisanal bagel makers—died on September 3 in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

He died at the age of 94 earlier this month in Palm Desert, Calif., where he lived, reports the N.Y. Times. His family told the L.A. Times that he passed away after a fall.

Prior to the early 1960's, bagel making had long been a skilled and unionized trade, a highly-guarded craft that was passed from generation to generation. As a result, bagels were mostly only available in North American cities with thriving Jewish enclaves, most notably New York and Montreal. But Thompson—a mathematician born to a Jewish bagel baker—sought to invent a machine that would remove the time-consuming process of making bagels, which included forming and rolling the dough. With the help of his invention, bagel making quickly shifted from a skilled trade to bagel production on a large scale—which, in turn—helped introduce bagels to the American diet.

"There was a kind of schism in bagel-making history: pre-Daniel Thompson and post-Daniel Thompson," Matthew Goodman, the author of "Jewish Food: The World at Table" tells the N.Y. Times. "What happened with the advent of the automated bagel-making machine was that bagel makers were capable of producing far more bagels than had ever been imagined."

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But while Thompson's invention helped spread the love of bagels far-and-wide, it was not a welcome development by all. Many also saw it as bringing about the end of an era. Many felt the machine not only homogenized and removed the depth of flavor from the handmade circles of dough, but also threatened the livelihood of traditional traditional bagel makers.

"It meant that any Joe off the street could make a bagel," Goodman explains to the N.Y. Times. "And that was one of a confluence of factors that in less than a generation turned the bagel, which had once been smaller and crusty and flavorful, into something that is large and pillowy and flavorless — it had turned into the kind of baked good that Americans like, à la Wonder Bread."

Up until that point, every bagel in New York City made in New York—according to Goodman—was crafted by members of the roughly 300 strong New York’s Local 338, part of the International Beigel Bakers Union. But Thompson's machine soon changed that. Whereas a traditional baker could make roughly 120 bagels in an hour, the automatic machines could turn out 400 with only an unskilled worker at the helm. They were quickly made—and with the help of Lender's who began using Thompson's machine to make bagels on a massive scale—were easily packaged, frozen and shipped to supermarkets across the country. Before long New York’s Local 338 was out of business.

Daniel Thompson was born on Jan. 16, 1921, in Winnipeg, Canada, the son of Meyer Thompson, a Jewish baker of bagels originally from Hull, England, and Annette Berman—who later became Abraham Thomas Thompson. His father had established a bakery in Winnipeg, but when Daniel was a baby, the family moved to Los Angeles. Thompson served in World War II with the Army Air Forces in the Pacific and later attended UCLA, where he studied industrial arts and mathematics.

Soon after graduated, Thompson, a tinkerer like his dad, received a patent for a “Folding Table, Tennis Table, or the Like,” which we have all come to know and love as a Ping Pong table. From the little money he made on that, Thompson set to work on refining a bagel-making machine—which his father had previously attempted—and began down a path that would ultimately influence the American diet in a major way.

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He is survived by his wife, Ada Schatz, his two sons Stephen and Craig, who oversee the family bagel-machine business, his daughter, Leslie; a brother, Robert; and three grandchildren.

Lender's Bagels still uses Thompson's bagel-making machines to this day, and as the largest bagel maker in the U.S., makes 750 million a year.